|So much for ‘hatred’, I guess…|
Don’t get me wrong. On a sentimental level, it would hurt to see him go. After all, I did just wax nostalgic on the virtues of loyalty and devoting one’s career to one club the other day. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff, I’ll admit. Sagna’s been with Arsenal longer than most players, save Walcott, Diaby and Rosicky, and has been a bedrock in defense for the duration. To see him go would be a sad day; to see leave him leave on a Bosman to a league-rival would be a slap in the face.
The claim is that he’s unhappy with the terms Arsenal have offered, and that makes sense. He’s been loyal, he’s been dependable, he’s done what he’s been asked. At some level (again, largely sentimental), he has a right to expect some kind of pay-out, which is something I’ve suggested in the past, and our robust financial health might encourage him to believe that we’re capable of rising to those expectations. However, as we’ve learned time and again, sentiment plays a small, small role in these talks. At the risk of sounding callous, if sentiment is supposed to motivate the club to offer a richer payout, shouldn’t sentiment also suggest to Sagan that he sympathize with the club that’s supported him for so long? I’m not asking that Sagna accept a low offer out of loyalty, compassion, or any other touchy-feely factors, but it’s hard to believe that we’re so far apart that he’d leave on a free. Not to City.
While we’re on the subject of feelings, I guess that a move to Man City won’t be the least bit awkward even if Sagna will be there as support and competition for Pablo Zabaleta, a man whose insults “pushed me to the limit”, as Sagna put it, adding that he “felt hatred” towards the Argentinian. Time heals all wounds, I’m sure, but it raises the larger question of why Sagna, by all accounts Arsenal’s first-choice right-back to the point that a loan was considered for Jenkinson, would go to City, where he’d be a back-up to Zabaleta. If the insults Zabaleta aimed at him were enough to inspire hatred deep enough to get sent off, pride might motivate Sagna to consider what he’s signing on for.
Enough of the touchy-feely. Strategically, losing Sagna would be tough, but not as tough as we might worry. Jenkinson and Bellerin are not yet ready for full first-team action, of course, and we’ll need a more-seasoned replacement. However, that was true if less obvious a few weeks ago. At 31, Sagna has shown worrying signs that he’s (a) no longer able to or (b) no longer willing to get forward and track back. Time and time again, he’s been guilty of failing to get back on defense, whether it was a quick counter-attack or even a slower build-up, and we’ve been exposed and conceded goals as a result. On the whole, Sagna has probably prevented more goals than he’s invited in this way, and even if the issue has been willingness rather than ability, it’s starting to sound like he’s less and less willing to put in that effort. If we did convince him to stay, how are we to know that the attitude will change? Staying, after all, would require him at some level to forego at least some of what he’s demanding in pay or length of contract, and that’s likely to erode effort rather than inspire it. We depend on our wide defenders to get forward and get back, and if Sagna’s not committed to (or no longer capable of) doing that, well, it might just be time to part ways anyway.
So why Man City? From Sagna’s point of view, of course, the answer is loud and clear. An increased chance at silverware, not to mention they can afford to pay him just about anything. Kind of. With UEFA ready to sanction the club for violating FFP, they’re going to have to mind their pounds and quid just a bit more. No, the £50m fine is not going to have any impact on their dealings. Sheikh Mansour could probably fumble around in the back of a junk-drawer to scrounge up that amount. The more-serious consideration might come through a Champions League squad-reduction. UEFA is considering reducing City’s squad from 25 to as low as 21 or even 18. That, combined with UEFA’s homegrown players rule, which requires that at least eight eligible players to have trained domestically (not with their current club, just domestically) for three years between the ages of 15 and 21, could seriously limit Man City’s options in the Champions League. Sagna would be ineligible to play, as would other defenders like Zabaleta, Nastasic, Demichelis, Boyata, Kolarov, and Kompany. In fact, the only defenders in the City squad who would still be eligible would be Lescott and Richards. The homegrown players rule applies to the entire squad, and Man City could find its six other eligible players elsewhere in the roster: Joe Hart. James Milner. Richard Wright. Jack Rodwell. That’s six, meaning Man City would need two more call-ups or signings, and these would have to meet that homegrown players rule.
Heck, while we’re on the subject of unhappy right-backs, does anyone fancy a go at Richards? He’s already unhappy and out of favor, having made only five appearances all season, and he’d have to feel like the arrival of Sagna would cut the number in half, if not more (let’s call it 60% to keep the math clean).
I’d be sad to see Sagna go, whether it’s to City, PSG, Fener, or wherever it is he’d end up. Despite my old-fashioned, soft-in-the-head ideals around loyalty, there’s little we can do to prevent it. If Sunday’s win over West Brom was his swan-song, it at least ends on a high-note, whether it was Bac’s performance or Elias’s goal.